on campus

Is This Rutgers Professor Trying to Excuse Dharun Ravi + Molly Wei’s Involvement In Tyler Clementi’s Bullycide?

On Wednesday we’ll see some members of the Rutgers University community rally at something called “Justice Not Vengeance,” an event organized by the (unofficial) “queer-centric” student group Queering The Air. It’s all part an effort to shift blame from students Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei — who stand accused of live webcasting Tyler Clementi’s intimate dorm room encounter that preceded his suicide — to, uh, Rutgers itself?

“Ravi and Wei have become a foil for anti-Asian racism calling for their ‘return to their countries,’ and ascribing homophobia to their cultures – as if homophobia were not deeply ingrained in the culture of the U.S.,” says Robert T. O’Brien, an anthropology department instructor (who’s led classes on gender theory), in a statement. (He is apparently part of this student group?) “Two students are being scapegoated for the failure of the university and the wider community to provide a safe environment for Rutgers’ diverse community. Such public outrage often fuels vengeance and inequality rather than just actions.”

The event will be at least the second time O’Brien has led or participated with students in a demonstration; a previous rally on Sept. 30 had him shouting, “Civility without safety, over our queer bodies.”

And I totally get his message: Clementi’s death isn’t just a teaching moment about homophobia, but about how universities must do more to create welcoming and safe environments for students. But let’s not kid ourselves about the alleged culpability of these two students. What they’re accused of doing is criminal, and they should be held accountable — and we shouldn’t be removing their names from the conversation. Any racist tones, however, must go.